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Moving to Japan is the only way......etc.
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Jeff Cairns
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PostPosted: 2011-09-19, 04:50    Post subject: Moving to Japan is the only way......etc. Reply with quote

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My guess is that when shakuhachi teachers outside of Japan teach the traditional music that was written for and with the instrument, they tend to think in terms of some concept of Japanese culture to the extent that they know it, with interpretation through their own eyes (cultural experiences both inside and outside of Japan). Though an excellent player of the traditions can come from such an experience and certainly has, ultimately there was some transference of a concept of Japanese traditional thinking that went into the process. The very act of understanding the form and aesthetic would necessitate that. From that point of view, being immersed in the culture and learning from a person who equally is, would not always create a 'professional' player of that genre, but could make the road a little more navigable for someone who has the desire to become so. But....there are always exceptional people who disprove any of this and I for one always marvel at those people.
Great photos Brian. How was your group and the others received by the festival and people?
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Brian Tairaku Ritchie
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PostPosted: 2011-09-19, 05:19    Post subject: Moving to Japan is the only way......etc. Reply with quote

Sure Jeff,

As Monk said, "Whatever you think can't be done, somebody will come along and do it. ... "

I could see how going to Japan and learning Japanese might help with the sankyoku and minyo......you'd understand the words. Razz

But honkyoku is essentially avant-garde sound music. Like free jazz. You just have to learn it from someone else who knows it. Doesn't seem to have much of a racial element to it. The Japanese public doesn't know it any better than pygmies know it because it's pretty much outside the culture.

If you think of people like James Schlefer in NYC or Bronwyn Kirkpatrick in Oz who have learned on home turf from western teachers, it's weird to say they're not good players. I guess it depends on your definition of "good".

In my book Watazumido is good and everyone else is a distant second. How distant do you want to get?

Maybe Watazumido is "great" and the next best people are 'very good".

I have enough respect for the difficulty of learning the instrument to regard anybody who has a good tone and plays any style of shakuhachi with musicality and decisiveness as "very good".

My definition of "not good" is "ugly tone and plays out of tune and out of rhythm". Maybe I'm too lenient. Embarassed

The gigs in the Tiwi Islands were great. People were very warm and friendly. Kids were climbing all over me all the time. They loved the shakuhachi but the thing they liked the most when I played it was "Amazing Grace" because they know and sing that song up there due to the missionaries.
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Jeff Cairns
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PostPosted: 2011-09-19, 09:11    Post subject: Moving to Japan is the only way......etc. Reply with quote

Words being what they are, I'll assume that you aren't assuming that I'm talking in anything that would be considered absolute terms Brian. I completely agree and recognize that there are people who can master something that originates in another culture (I don't think that necessarily has anything to do with race). And in its essence, honkyoku might be associated with avante-garde free jazz, except that honkyoku is now highly structured and free jazz is....well, largely free, though with less obvious constraints. I think that James and Bronwyn both learned from teachers who have Japanese experience (which could mean anything from living there to being taught by Japanese teachers to being taught by someone who was taught by a Japanese teacher) , and my point is that experience is something that is being transmitted. The point is that western transmission of Japanese music is too new to have enough generations of players and teachers who are removed from Japanese contact to actually say what the music would be in that situation. Whether you like it or not, you are connected. And there's no doubt that Watazumi was also connected. In time, as Kiku suggests, the music may become removed enough from its cultural roots as European Classical music has, for it to become completely open to interpretation. That seems natural. Hell, the Tiwis sing Amazing Grace. Case in point.
But all of this is just trying to clarify a point. I for one think that you don't have to live in Japan to become 'good' at playing the shakuhachi. As you (Brian) suggest, you only need a 'good' teacher.
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Brian Tairaku Ritchie
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PostPosted: 2011-09-19, 09:28    Post subject: Moving to Japan is the only way......etc. Reply with quote

Hi Jeff, in my previous post when I said "you" I meant "anyone", not "Jeff". Smile Not trying to single you out!

When we teach we are supposed to teach the way we were taught that's how we keep the continuity back to the Japanese source. In reality I teach differently depending on the student. I have reverted to a more "Japanese" method of teaching with one of my students because he is Japanese and does not have the same expectations as the western students. So it's constantly swinging back and forth.

If we want to be purists about the whole thing we should just drop out, join temples, toss the notation, and learn everything by rote. Sometimes I think that would be a good idea.
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JF Lagrost
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PostPosted: 2011-09-19, 15:47    Post subject: Moving to Japan is the only way......etc. Reply with quote

Some absurd remarks I have heard from Japanese or European shakuhachi players:
- You cannot become a professional if you have not studied in Japan;
- A non-Japanese can not really understand the spirit of the shakuhachi;
- A classical musician can not play a Japanese instrument;
(...)
I am not exaggerating, I transcribe word for word. These words are sometimes run by famous dai-shihan... I find them just nauseating. They contain hints of eugenics and racism. If you want to learn the shakuhachi with a good teacher, first escape these people.

You may say that if excellent shakuhachi players speak in this way, perhaps it is them who are right. I believe not. Of course I could be wrong, it is a deduction from my own experience, having attended quite a long time professional classical musicians. I have the distinct impression that people who think this way are mainly afraid that their students become better than them (although this is the best reward that a teacher can hope). For example, some classical musicians still have the mind cluttered with stereotypes as "an Asian musician is a machine to practice, with good technique but unable to express feelings." This is obviously false and is contradicted by the facts. If you push the idea to the absurd, only a German can play Bach, only an Austrian can play Mozart and only a French may understand Debussy.

I think that in classical music as in Japanese music, some people are obsessed by a certain orthodoxy, want to be more "pure" than their neighbor, and make sure to remain the only true specialist in their school.

Marek, if you want to go to Japan, it is that you feel the need to immerse yourself in the culture. It is indeed important to understand the spirit of some pieces. But please do not imagine that it is this approach that will make you a good shakuhachi player. It will come from the depths of yourself. Music is universal. Just an example, about European players : you invited Gunnar Linder in Prague ; what is missing in him, as a player or as a teacher, compared to a Japanese ? In my opinion, nothing.

In the meantime you can meditate Sakai sensei's words, who told me in Prague that neither his father nor any teacher has never teached him anything... He just "stole" his masters what he liked.
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Jeff Cairns
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PostPosted: 2011-09-19, 17:11    Post subject: Moving to Japan is the only way......etc. Reply with quote

Brian, I posted after your last from my cell, but it doesn't show here for some reason. Anyway, I wanted to say thank you for clearing that up.
I completely understand and agree with your teaching approach, however my reality is pretty much opposite to yours. My one non-Japanese student wants to be taught in the strict Japanese style that I was taught in, whereas my other students who are all Japanese, expect a 'Western' slant to things. I also feel that it is necessary to understand the student's needs.
JF, I have never heard anybody say the things that you have heard about becoming a professional, etc., but I have certainly seen surprise in the faces of 'average' Japanese when they first hear that I play the shakuhachi. I don't think this is really so much a cultural bias as a general recognition that the shakuhachi is either difficult or obscure. That being said, I agree with your idea that snobbery is often a defense mechanism and an attempt to protect territory. Not dissimilar to the way an animal will feign attach when approached by an outsider. Sometimes bravado is enough to remove a threat.
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Marek
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PostPosted: 2011-09-19, 21:37    Post subject: Moving to Japan is the only way......etc. Reply with quote

Jean-Francois, please, if you look closely, you will find that I said I don't know a very good player of traditional music without the Japan experience. No more, no less. Gunnar has spend a very long time in Japan and I do love his playing and attitude, regardless of his hair colour.

From my own experience, when I visited Japan in 2009, the possibility to visit many great concerts of traditional and contemporary music has helped to develop my taste. Here, in Prague, there are few concerts of contemporary music and even fewer composers with taste for silence... Furthermore, having sound of my teacher and of other wonderful players in my ears has helped me to work timbre; this is a very physical and immediate experience which I cannot get from any recording. I feel it in my guts, that in order to play well, I need to spend some time there.

OT: I see every music (or film) as an ideology. Each with its own rules, principles and aesthetics. Claiming that music is universal denies its diversity. In my point of view, "universal" is a power term of a hegemonic ideology.
(The very idea behind Prague Shakuhachi Festival is to put the crack into the idea of what is music.)
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JF Lagrost
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PostPosted: 2011-09-19, 23:43    Post subject: Moving to Japan is the only way......etc. Reply with quote

Marek, I misspoke and you misunderstood me, but I don't know how else to explain in English. I don't deny the diversity of music, but I think there is something universal that subtends it, something that no teacher can teach you. "Music is universal" is just a shortcut due to lack of vocabulary.

I also think that we need a "Japan experience" to understand a part of the repertoire. But "Japan experience" doesn't necessarily mean "Japanese teacher". I encourage any shakuhachi player to see Japan, live with Japanese, learn Japanese, eat Japanese food, immerse themselves into the atmosphere of temples, listen to the cicadas... but I maintain that some non-Japanese teachers can teach you the traditional repertoire as well as a Japanese teacher... and you can thus become the first "very good player of traditional music without the Japan experience". Mr. Green Okay

Of course when I say "you" I mean "anyone". Marek, in your particular case, I understand you've already found a teacher in Japan, and if he brought you a so positive experience, do not hesitate to go and see him.
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Brian Tairaku Ritchie
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PostPosted: 2011-09-20, 02:53    Post subject: Moving to Japan is the only way......etc. Reply with quote

It looks like the majority of the contention surrounding this little exchange revolves around the definition of a few terms:

"Professional". Marek's assertion that you have to live in Japan for years to be a professional shakuhachi player has been disproved.

"Traditional". This is a huge argument that we haven't even started to really have and probably shouldn't Wink . What is traditional shakuhachi music? Honkyoku, yes, broadly speaking. The practice of playing honkyoku is probably the most traditional shakuhachi practice.........but that does not mean that the actual honkyoku we are playing or the styles we play are traditional.

For example Justin has written here about how Taizan-ha music is relatively modern in origin. Tozan makes no claims to be ancient. Kinko is the oldest continuous tradition but many people think it has been modernized. KSK is a modernized version of what Watazumido played mixed in with Kinko and Rando (which is modern). Watazumi himself had some of his own ideas. Of course all of this music is based on traditional music. But none if it is traditional unless you want to say for example "within the Tozan tradition".

Some people think playing sankyoku or gaikyoku on shakuhachi is not really traditional, a compromise. Although I have an Edo ukiyoe print showing that ensemble. Maybe it's traditional.

Minyo is probably as traditional as it gets because that music is undisputed. Unless you're playing stuff like "Auld Lang Syne" which Japanese people think is a "traditional" Japanese melody. Cool

The other phrase which is being bandied about without being defined is "very good". Maybe Marek should list the "very good" players and contrast that by listing the "not very good" players so we know what he is talking about.

There are a number of "maybe very good" players who have been licensed either by Western teachers or by Japanese teachers without having lived in Japan. One would think the Japanese teachers at least would not hand out Shihan to people who are not "very good" particularly in schools which have Jun Shihan.

I don't think any of us playing shakuhachi think of it as divorced from Japanese culture or are not interested in Japanese culture. In my case I learned shakuhachi in NYC from western and Japanese teachers and had visits to Japan before and after knowing how to play shakuhachi. By the time I studied in Japan I was already an advanced player.

One thing that's really cheesy is when players learn in the West from a Western teacher and then disavow it on their resume, preferring to focus on their secondary teachers in Japan. I have seen this many times and reeks of the racism JF references above.


Last edited by Brian Tairaku Ritchie on 2011-09-20, 03:29; edited 1 time in total
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Jeff Cairns
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PostPosted: 2011-09-20, 02:55    Post subject: Moving to Japan is the only way......etc. Reply with quote

JF - as long as you play traditional shakuhachi music, you can not evade the Japanese experience. It's written into the music. You may not associate it with temples, cicadas, noisy street vendors and sushi, but it is a thread in the fabric of what is Japanese. Origins are what they are and they have a far reach. Do we need to be conscious of all of those origins in order to experience one thread of the fabric? No. But when that thread is viewed in the context of the fabric, much more becomes evident. And some of what becomes evident may be contrary to previously held ideas. Everything moves toward a settled condition. Often things become disturbed by outside influences and a newness or freshness is felt in that disorder, but settling continues to occur. I believe foreign involvement with the traditional music of Japan through the shakuhachi is just such a disturbance and is causing a fresh disorder. I also believe that that disturbance will become a part of the settling and with any good fortune, will again be disturbed. Enjoy the pattern, whatever role you play in it.
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J. Danza
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PostPosted: 2011-09-20, 08:21    Post subject: Moving to Japan is the only way......etc. Reply with quote

Cool thread and interesting points of view! I'm particularly mystified by your assertion, Brian, that Honkyoku is not particularly Japanese. For me Watazumi definitely falls, sound and attitude, within the avant garde mode, but Yamaguchi Goro wouldn't, and Riley or Stan Richardson playing Honkyoku are often found (not unreasonably) in the New Age section of stores. I've always seen Honkyoku, aesthetically, as fundamentally and strictly Japanese. Also, as I'm aging, I must confess that my original inspirations... the mad sounds of Watazumi and experimental sounds of Hozan Yamamoto... begin to sound a little crazy and test my patience (ok... I'm ready to take a beating for that one Neutral )
By the way, Brian... great photos! It's a different planet out there. Maybe I can come and offer some djembe workshops Very Happy
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Brian Tairaku Ritchie
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PostPosted: 2011-09-20, 22:45    Post subject: Moving to Japan is the only way......etc. Reply with quote

J. Danza wrote:
Cool thread and interesting points of view! I'm particularly mystified by your assertion, Brian, that Honkyoku is not particularly Japanese.


Of course it's Japanese music. But it's very far outside everyday Japanese culture. My main point is that I think anybody can learn it through study and Japanese people don't have much advantage there, aside from knowing the characters. I think any person can enjoy listening or playing it the same way. Whereas with minyo being Japanese is a big advantage, you know the words and have childhood memories associated with it.

Here's a funny lineage that I think sheds light on our discussion.

Yesterday I gave a lesson to one of my students named Masaaki, he's Japanese. During the lesson it occurred to me that even the fact that he's learning it is an example of the internationalization of shakuhachi.

Masaaki comes to my teahouse a lot. He heard me play shakuhachi and thought it was strange that a gaijin could do that but had no particular interest in it. But he went back to Japan to visit and found his grandfather's shakuhachi laying around the house. He thought, "Brian seems to enjoy this" and went looking for a teacher in his neighborhood. He took a few lessons from Taro Matsumoto.

Taro learned how to play shakuhachi from Riley Lee while he spent some time in Australia.

Then Masaaki came back to Tasmania with the bug and has been taking lessons from me since then.

So you have a Japanese dude learning from a Japanese dude who learned from an American dude who lives in Australia and then taking lessons from an American dude who learned from an American dude and lives in Australia.

What's the moral of that story? Mr. Green
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PostPosted: 2011-09-20, 23:52    Post subject: Moving to Japan is the only way......etc. Reply with quote

!!!! That is an awesome story. I've also have had Japanese students and I find it a very rewarding feeling to give them back what their own culture gave to me.
And I fully agree with you... ultimately Shakuhachi music belongs, for me, to a spiritual realm well beyond the limitations of culture (I still think it's best to be well versed in the history, culture, and tradition of the instrument before you venture into finding your own sound and expression through it... but that does not include necessarily going there physically, even though I do believe it will give you a deeper understanding and connection to the instrument... it definitely made a huge difference for me)
The moral of the story is that Life is much bigger, and funner, than all our "musts", "shoulds", and even "mights"! Thanks for sharing...
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Brian Tairaku Ritchie
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PostPosted: 2011-09-21, 01:45    Post subject: Moving to Japan is the only way......etc. Reply with quote

It's interesting that in order to play shakuhachi those two Japanese guys came to Australia. Sometimes exile brings out your own roots, I know I feel that way about American music here in Australia.
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PostPosted: 2011-09-21, 02:14    Post subject: Moving to Japan is the only way......etc. Reply with quote

This is a great discussion.

> Some people think playing sankyoku or gaikyoku on shakuhachi is not really traditional, a compromise. Although I have an Edo ukiyoe print showing that ensemble. Maybe it's traditional.

To expand on this point (for the benefit of future Googlers): originally, the sustaining instrument in sankyoku was the kokyu (which, like the koto and shamisen, was a todoza instrument. Somewhere around the middle of the Edo period, though, shakuhachi started appearing in ensembles instead of kokyu; by the Meiji period it was totally normal but both were still common; today the shakuhachi is far more common in sankyoku music than the kokyu. So whether it's "traditional" or not depends 100% on your perspective. "Of course it's traditional! People have been doing it for 200 years!" vs "Of course it's not traditional! It's a post-Edo phenomenon at best!" (and of course totally orthogonal viewpoints like "Of course it's not traditional! The shakuhachi is for honkyoku ONLY!" -- I believe Big Fuke held this opinion officially, despite what their members actually did...)

> Minyo is probably as traditional as it gets because that music is undisputed.

I wouldn't be so sure. Maybe a century or two ago. Nowadays, I think it would be hard to find very many minyo players whose music isn't "contaminated" (in the technical sense, no value judgment) with minyo from far distant prefectures they heard on CD or at festivals (or Western-derived music, of course), or altered subtly by standardized instrument production.

> Of course it's Japanese music. But it's very far outside everyday Japanese culture. My main point is that I think anybody can learn it through study and Japanese people don't have much advantage there, aside from knowing the characters. I think any person can enjoy listening or playing it the same way. Whereas with minyo being Japanese is a big advantage, you know the words and have childhood memories associated with it.

No disagreement that anyone can learn or enjoy the music, but I think you are too quick to dismiss it as "outside everyday Japanese culture". Honkyoku music isn't the same as any other traditional Japanese music, but there are some shared traits. For example, the "tsu meri/ro", "u/re" half-steps are very similar to what you see in jiuta/sokyoku (i.e. sankyoku). Sankyoku isn't exactly pop music in Japan either, but Japanese people do hear it a lot (it's played everywhere at New Year's, it's in period dramas on TV, it appears in documentaries about the Edo period, they even learn it in elementary school nowadays).

Maybe the cumulative effect of this doesn't make a difference; I hypothesize that it does. I also think that psychological framing must surely have an effect: "daggy olden-days music that grandpa used to listen to" vs "enchanting strains from the mystical Orient", etc.

Put another way, I don't believe that everyone, regardless of background, experiences the music in "the same way". (I don't even think that this is true of European-style classical music, let alone something as strongly identified with a single nation as shakuhachi.) But I also reject the notion that a different subjective experience necessarily implies an inferior or less "soulful" performer, or that diversity in general is bad.
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